Position versatility helping LSU wide receivers

BATON ROUGE, La. – At 6-foot-3, Malachi Dupre hardly looks like the typical undersized slot receiver.

But LSU’s coaches had to love what they saw from the sophomore in Saturday’s spring game when he lined up at his new inside receiver position. Both of Dupre’s touchdown catches Saturday came in three-receiver sets where he lined up in the slot, with D.J. Chark and Travin Dural manning the outside receiver positions.

“I really like what we did with [Dural] today,” LSU coach Les Miles said afterward. “I think we put him in spots that gave him opportunities at receptions where he really responded and made a couple of really nice grabs. I think that spot that we found for him towards the end of spring ball, I think that that’s kind of really where we need to play him more.”

Redshirt sophomore receiver John Diarse said midway through spring camp that one emphasis in these 15 practices has been for the Tigers’ numerous young receivers to learn multiple positions. The fruits of that labor were on full display on Saturday – and not just with Dupre.

“[This spring was] a lot different,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said when asked to compare his receivers’ versatility now to last fall. “When you think about how many first-time players we had last year, playing a first-year player at many positions is challenging. So Malachi now, we can move him to the X, the Z, the F. John Diarse can now play the X, the Y, the Z and the F. Chark now kind of a newcomer, we’re playing him at one spot. Travin can play X, Y, Z or F if he needed to. Those are good things for us. It’ll give us a lot of flexibility.”

Last fall was a big change from Cameron’s first season as offensive coordinator in 2013, when LSU’s receiver depth chart was loaded with juniors and seniors who made life difficult for opposing defensive coordinators by being able to move around in LSU’s various formations.

“Defensive game-planning, it makes it more difficult,” Cameron said. “We used to do it with Jarvis [Landry] and Odell [Beckham]. There were games where they would think Odell was always going to be here. Next thing you know, he’s over in the slot. All of a sudden, that allows us to move him around so they can’t roll to him and double certain guys. I think it’s good for us scheme-wise and it’s also good for a kid to know, ‘We want to challenge you to do more things.’ ”

The Tigers are clearly moving back into that direction now that their maturing receivers have accepted that challenge.

Inexperience created an obstacle for LSU’s receivers when last season started, as then-redshirt sophomore Dural was the only regular who had appeared in a college game. Young players such as Dupre, Diarse and Trey Quinn contributed in spells, but they had a lot to learn about becoming consistent players.

Actually, many of them had a lot to learn, period. Learning one position was enough of a challenge, much less two or three.

“We couldn’t move around like we wanted to,” Dural recalled. “But now those guys are older and they know more than one position. It’s helping us out tremendously. We have guys who can play in the slot who are 6-3 and have a matchup issue. So that’s something that we’re looking to move forward to.”

Dupre played inside and out on Saturday. Dural started the game in the slot, but played mostly outside as the Z receiver. Quinn, whose build and skills make him more of a prototypical slot receiver, lined up as an inside receiver for the second-team offense. Diarse moved inside and out while playing for both teams. Chark, the group’s breakout performer this spring, played the X receiver position outside.

As Dural mentioned, rotating receivers through the various positions seemed to create matchup advantages against the second-team defense on Saturday. Certainly the defenses they’ll face this fall will offer stronger resistance, but the receivers’ continuing development at multiple positions can only help Cameron as he attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in opposing defensive schemes.

“Those guys are interchangeable. They can go anywhere on the football field,” quarterback Anthony Jennings said. “Maybe we want to take advantage of one corner one week and maybe get one person on that cornerback or something like that. So they give us a lot of flexibility, knowing we can put those guys anywhere and they’ll know what to do.

“You can’t really focus on one person or one player because you don’t know where they’re going to line up. It’s an advantage for the offense to get our best guys on their worst.”